Do I get a diploma now?

Today I have been married for four years. Or, as I like to say, I’ve put in enough time to have earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Marriage to Jon O. I’m thinking it’s a BA, because marriage is more an art than a science- what works for us may not work for anyone else, but 4 years in, I pretty well know what works for us.  I guess I’m now working on my Master’s, and I’m planning to go for a Ph.D. After that, I guess I’ll have to find a new metaphor!

I’ve been thinking about weddings a lot this week.  Last Saturday, I went to the wedding of a dear friend, a friend who had been a bridesmaid in my wedding.  It was a lovely, joyous occasion, and being there, I have to say the ceremony was just SO HER, so true to who my friend is as an exuberant, whimsical, beautiful, and loving person. I got teared up as they said their vows, and I grinned with true, shared joy as they walked down the aisle as husband and wife to the music of “All You Need Is Love” complete with live marimba, trombone, piano, and violin accompaniment.  Later, I told my husband that I think I need to arrange to go to a wedding the week of our anniversary every year, because they remind me what a special joy it is to be married.

Then, a few days ago, I tweeted something about my disgust at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding costing over $4 million.  Many of my “tweeps” joined in my disgust, and a few shared how they managed to pull off astonishingly cheap weddings.  Like, less than $50, cheap.  I like to think I had a pretty inexpensive wedding, but the truth is, our event probably cost our families around the national average when all was said and done. I’d like to see a poll of my tweeps’ wedding costs when controlled for an average ceremony and reception, because those who eloped were really throwing off the curve. And of course, all the cheap wedding talk led to someone wondering if she was a bad person because she had a more expensive wedding.  To which I say: of course not.  If you’ve got the money to spend and a vision to execute, more power to ya, enjoy your day. I certainly did. (And I’m not really as grossed out by Chelsea Clinton’s $4 million wedding now that I’ve been reminded that she’s throwing a shindig that will be attended by dignitaries and heads of state accustomed to a certain standard of accommodation.)

While I’m well aware that people in this country all too often focus on the wedding instead of the marriage, looking back at my wedding, I think it well-represented who we are as a couple, both then and now. I thought I’d share a few aspects.

In my life, I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family and a wonderful church family, all of whom had a hand in raising me, and all of whom share credit for the person I’ve become.  To grow up in a strong church family is a huge blessing, and everyone at Westminster Presbyterian Church really came together to make my special day a true “family” affair. We were married in the church I grew up in, and my church family had a hand in every aspect of our wedding.  As a small example, when, at the last minute, we realized the bouquets and boutonnieres had not arrived for the ceremony (long story, maybe I’ll tell you sometime), a woman of the church hurried into the reception hall, gathered up any extra flowers she could get her hands on, and stuck stems in the pockets of all the groomsmen.  She tied ribbons around white chrysanthemums for all the bridesmaids, and she quickly fashioned a bouquet for me.  While they weren’t the hand-tied mini white calla lilies I had envisioned, I had flowers in my hands and a smile on my face when I went down the aisle, and no one knew they weren’t the flowers I had planned on.  I had no time to worry, and no need to, because I was surrounded by people who loved us and who were taking care of us. I know that those people surround and care for us to this day.

Another thing that was very important to us was that our wedding be first and foremost a service of worship for the God who taught us to love and brought us together and blessed us so richly.  Led by a dear friend and Jon’s sister, we sang both modern praise and worship songs (more Jon’s style) and favorite hymns (more mine).  We were even beautifully serenaded by Jon’s best friend and best man, who sang “Ave Maria.”  After the wedding, several friends and even our wedding photographer remarked on the genuine and joyful faith they had seen on display both in the ceremony and over the weekend with our families. I’m pretty sure our photographer was introduced to Jesus for the first time at our wedding!

Jon and I met while working as counselors at a Presbyterian summer camp, so it was only right that the camp director performed our wedding.  Knowing David, who has a penchant for preaching parables entirely in alliteration, I knew we’d get a very unique message on our special day, and he did not disappoint.  He centered his message on lessons from camp that apply to marriage.  Here’s part of what he said:

(1) Feed the Untraditional. If there is any adjective we can all agree on to describe Jesus, it is that he was “untraditional.” He did things differently. He shattered traditions. He said things in new ways. I think this is what makes camp so powerful. The same message, but shared in a new context with a different vocabulary and lived out in community. I encourage you to finds ways to keep your faith and marriage fresh. Look for new wineskins. Hold fast to your faith, but don’t mistake the packaging for the real thing. Jesus had harsh words for the traditionalists. Those he hung with were the marginalized. Keep your faith untraditional and fresh.
(2) Find some wilderness places. Ask a camper what their favorite part of camp was and you’ll get a variety of answers, swimming, games, camping out, capture the flag, but ask a counselor, and one response dominates. They like FOB. Flat On Bunk, that time after lunch when you go back to the cabin for rest time. It is time to recharge and renew. Marriages need FOB as well. We may not get it after lunch each day, but we need to find it somewhere. Jesus had only three years of ministry to share the Good News and change the world, yet we constantly find him sneaking away for time away to reflect and renew; to step back and refocus; to be intentional about his relationship with God and listen for direction.
You two face busy times ahead. School, marriage, and real life are coming at you. Times of stress and times when the demands of the world seem to press in from all sides. Jesus always got away to wilderness and natural places….mountain tops, sea shores, desserts, and gardens. Find the time and places that help you stay grounded and well-rounded. Take FOB time to cultivate your relationship with each other and your relationship with your Creator.
(3) Finally, Form Your Own Family Group. One of the things about camp that makes it so impacting is that we form family groups and for that week of camp they share meals, activities, worship. They live together 24 hours a day in community so they see each other as they really are. Each person has to give of themselves to make it work. In a way it is a microcosm of life and of marriage. You are forming your own family group and God will now see you as one unit. You are giving each other the greatest gift possible – yourself – even as Christ gave himself for the church. It is the marriage relationship that Scripture chooses to use as its model for the relationship between Jesus and the church. With God’s help you can model the relationship. You will have challenges, but God promises to be with you through it all, just as you today make public your commitment to be with each other through it all.

Enjoy the gift of life. And enjoy the gift of each other. And don’t forget to have fun along the way. Roast a marshmallow or two and have a s’more. And remember, you have this huge community of friends and family here to root you on, to encourage and support you.

Four years later, I can say that his advice was right on. I’m even rather amused now at how apt it was. We are all about “untraditional.” On our wedding day, we spent our time before the ceremony smooching in the hallway, tradition of not seeing each other be damned. At the end of the ceremony, we were introduced as “Jon and Sarah [Lastname], husband and wife” because I absolutely despise the traditional erasing of female identity in announcing them as “Mr. and Mrs. Jon [Lastname].” And to this day, we strive not to fall back on traditional roles in our marriage, but to be who we are, completely and honestly, supporting and encouraging each other and playing to our strengths.

We are also all about FOB time. Through the rigors of residency and the trials of life, our time to relax and recharge together has been fought for fiercely and guarded closely. At the wedding last weekend, one of the bridesmaids, upon learning I was about to celebrate four years of marriage, asked me “Four good years? Was it easy?” I thought for a minute and replied: “Life has sometimes been very hard, but the marriage has been easy.” I know this might not always be the case, that sometimes marriage itself might get hard, but over the past four years, our marriage has been our sanctuary in a life that has sometimes been tumultuous.

And we have, over the past four years, been knit together as a family, one unit. While moving halfway across the country from everyone you know and love is a stressful and hard thing, it was also an immense blessing for us as a newlywed couple. We have been forced to forge together and rely on each other when we had no one else to rely on. We know we that no matter what comes our way, we’re in it together.

I am so happy to look back at how far we’ve come in our marriage over the past four years.  And I’m impressed with how perfectly our ceremony foretold our life together.  Now, I’m off to give Jon the gift I made for him. I promise to tell you all about that tomorrow!

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